Right, so, responding to Becky's comment on the 'Faces in the Cloud' post brought this to mind. It's not about the mechanics of prayer, but about what I learned about the attitude that you have to bring to prayer.
We tend to pray for things. Not necessarily material things, at least once you hit adulthood. You tell me you never prayed for a pony/toy/puppy/kitten/etc. as a child and I will laugh at you. But we pray for situations and we tend to pray for the outcome that we desire to be what happens. I think many of us think that if we just pray hard enough that God will say, 'okay' and let it go the way we want.
That's not what happens. I'm going to explain how I came to that realization.
I've had my job for 14 years. I started when I was 14 and have moved up into my current position from being a part time receptionist. I worked with the same group of women, most of them old enough to be my mother or grandmother most of this time. These women helped raise me, essentially.
One of them, Pat, was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago. She'd quit smoking three or four years prior to that, because her daughter and son-in-law were trying to have children and she decided that she didn't want the grandbabies to grow up around the cigarette smoke. She had kicked the habit and never had any trouble physically since. Then, one day at the gym, she coughs and there's blood in the phlegm. Pat went to the doctor and they found all these chunks of cancer in her lungs.
It was...it was devastating. I'd lost my grandfather to cancer two or three years before this and his was a long, hard death. The thought that someone I loved would be going through that again, that her family was going to have to suffer like that. The pain and uncertainty and the hard decisions...it hurt. Pat and her daughter Jen were incredibly close and you could see the fight killing something in Jen.
We all prayed for her. For Pat to beat it and recover. We wanted her to see her three grandchildren grow up. Jen had a prayer that she handed out, asking us to pray, to a saint whose 'area' was cancer. I still have the prayer, though I can't remember the name of the saint right now or any of the words. But I saved it in a little folder I keep prayers I find and print out in.
I prayed it faithfully, every day, begging God and this saint to save my friend. She just kept getting worse. The doctors were trying everything, but the cancer had gone unnoticed for so long that it was everywhere. Toward the end they found it in her brain and her spinal column.
At some point, maybe a month or so before her death, I changed what I was praying for. I can't remember what caused the change, what realization or anything like that. I just know that I didn't stop praying for her recovery, but the way I approached it was different.
I started praying that if it was God's will that she be healed. But if it was not God's Will, if His desire was that Pat be with Him sooner rather than later, that He make it easy for those of us left behind. That He help us to understand and to...not move on, but to integrate what happened into our lives and keep going.
When Pat died, she died well. If such a thing can be said about a slow, lingering death. She died in the hospital, surrounded by her family. Way too young, but by that point she was ready. Her last words were to her husband. She told him to 'let me go'. It made it...I hate to use the word 'easy', because nothing about death is ever easy. But it eased him, he said later. To know that she wanted to go. That she wasn't fighting, wasn't afraid anymore. She was ready.
*Note: And since I'm tearing up while I type this at work, one of my coworkers is asking me what's wrong.*
The point is, I learned to approach prayer less as a magic slot machine. Insert coin (prayer) get prize (desired outcome).
Prayer is not about changing God's mind about what is going to happen. It's about teaching oneself to turn to God, to rely on Him. It's about taking one's own ideas of what is 'best' and laying them aside. Accepting God's Will. Prayer is asking for the strength to accept what God deems best for our lives and to *know* that it is really the correct path.
I try to pray, when I am praying for specific intentions, in a general formula of: 'If it be Your Will, let X happen. But if it not be Your Will, then let Your Will be done, and help me to understand.' Not those specific words, mind, but you get the idea.